This past Monday, we had our first Lord of the Rings Organised Play event at our local game shop Chimera, and this week I thought I’d just jot down a few thoughts about it, and about organised play generally.
We had 8 people turn up in the end, 2 groups of two, a group of three of us, and a guy by himself – we divided into two tables of four to take on the Nightmare versions of the Hobbit: On the Doorstep Quests.
Our table was the three of us who had gone together (me, my wife, and a friend from work) and the guy who had come by himself. As the game-night kit only comes with a single copy of the Nightmare quests, and the other table had started with Flies and Spiders, we went straight to The Lonely Mountain.
The Lonely Mountain
In its classic format, the Lonely Mountain was a push-your-luck quest: at the start of the game, the mountain itself is contributing only 2 threat, and the two-round set-up allows you to get a good foothold. If you can content yourself with just 1 or 2 Treasures, it’s really quite manageable to push through to stage 3 before things get nasty.
In Nightmare, unsurprisingly, this option is taken away from you- you HAVE to have all five treasures before you can advance, and that means that you are going to find yourself on stage 4, where Smaug comes and attacks you (repeatedly), unless you somehow avoid ever adding a single progress token to him from treacheries or forced effects.
On top of this, our fourth player had never played On The Doorstep before, and came with a tactics deck that relied on Legolas killing lots of things, aided by Rivendell blades and the like, then triggering Foe-Hammer and other similar effects- great for a normal game, but it struggled against a quest with only a single enemy, who was indestructible and immune to player-card effects. I was running a fairly high threat deck, with Boromir (Dead Marshes), Beorn and Eowyn, and with lots of threat-raising effects, we lost fairly quickly.
The Battle of Five Armies
We then turned our attentions to the Battle of Five Armies. In format this hasn’t changed all that much from non-Nightmare mode (at least until you reach stage 5), but the difficulty has been ramped up considerably. Bear in mind that this is already a quest with a 5-card set-up (Bolg + 1 per player) then typically 5 plus cards in round 1 (1 per player, with the first Goblin gaining surge as well as various surging treacheries).
Gone are the almost friendly little chaps like the Gundabad Climber, and in their place are massive Orc and Wargs ready to tear you limb from limb. Add to that several new locations with high threats, and large numbers of progress needed (5 or 6 apiece) which add threat or damage based on the number of quests with zero progress, and it was virtually impossible.
In our first game, we drew a new treachery in set-up which caused Bolg to attack each player, then drew another copy in turn 1 for almost instant death. In the end I think we tried that quest 4 or 5 times, building decks on the fly in an attempt to deal with one problem, only to get mown down elsewhere. We died from threat, destruction by too many enemies, and even by the elimination of Bilbo (which I had momentarily forgotten was a defeat condition).
Flies and Spiders
We did get a belated look at Flies and Spiders, although not actually a chance to play it – again, this didn’t seem massively changed in structure, just give a fresh burst of nastiness by new treacheries, including one that dealt a poison to each character in play, and some bigger, nastier spiders.
I’m definitely glad that we did the event – it was nice to meet some new people who are interested in the game, even though we only got to play with one of them, and it’s always nice to come away with some swag- in this instance a Bard the Bowman Deck Box.
That said, Nightmare just doesn’t seem to me like it’s the best way of doing Organised Play – I bumped into a friend’s brother at the shop, who was down for a Magic event, and was explaining the game to him – as it was we were winding up by then, but if we had had the time to demo a game, I’m not sure the annihilation that we received would have been a great encouragement to come back for more.
On a more general note, there’s the age-old issue of scaling. If people are going to turn up in 2s and 3s and (at least whilst this is a fairly new thing) everyone wants to play with the friends they came with, then most of the time, you’ll be playing large games- probably 4-player. Modern encounter decks just seem too highly tuned to give you that much of a chance in 4-player, unless you’re a.) very good, and b.) have done a lot of advance-planning to ensure your decks are perfectly synced. We could have played 3, 3 and 2 instead, but if we do that, we might as well stay at home.
The co-op format of the game also makes it a bit tricky to decide how you divide up the stuff in the kit –in the end we diced for it, and I think most people went away happy (although I’m now kicking myself for not taking any pictures of the Nightmare deck, which went to someone else), but it’s a very different approach to most OP events, and a bit more thought may be wanted long-term.
I have high hopes for the next game night kit, and hope that Fog on the Barrow Downs will be a bit less crazy (It’d be nice if the old forest was out by then to combine the two, but I’m not over-optimistic). I look forward to getting some more events getting on at the shop, and maybe attracting a bit of passing interest from other people in the shop. It’s certainly given me a new appreciation for the people who organise these sorts of events regularly.
in the meantime, in true Dor Cuarthol tradition, here’s a custom card to help you on your organised play journey: